“This is an obscene act that needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” Chaa Creek proprietor Mick Fleming said today.
Mr Fleming was responding to news that one of Belize’s largest Maya pyramids has been destroyed with backhoes and bulldozers in order to generate crushed rock for a road-building project.
“Who in their right mind would deliberately destroy a structure that was created thousands of years ago, using the most primitive tools to build something of such complexity and beauty? This is a part of not only Belize’s, but the world’s cultural heritage, and it has been demolished for road fill. And in a country where we have no end of suitable material just laying around,” he said.
Mr Fleming’s remarks echoed those of Jaime Awe, a world renowned archaeologist and Mayanist who is the director of the Belize Institute of Archaeology. Dr Awe said the ancient Maya ceremonial centre of Nohmul in northern Belize dates back at least 2,300 years and is one of the most important sites in Belize. He said news of the destruction was heartbreaking.
“It’s a feeling of Incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity … they were using this for road fill,” Awe said. “It’s like being punched in the stomach, it’s just so horrendous,” Dr Awe said.
“To think that today we have modern equipment, that you can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere, but that this company would completely disregard that and completely destroyed this building. It’s mind-boggling.”
The Nohmul complex is located in a privately owned sugar cane field, but like all pre-Hispanic structures in Belize is protected by law. Dr Awe said the builders could not possibly have mistaken the pyramid mound, which is about 100 feet tall. “These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It’s just bloody laziness,” Dr Awe said.
A construction company said to be owned by a well-known Belizean politician is being investigated.
Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor at Tulane University’s Anthropology Department, said “Unfortunately, this destruction of our heritage is irreversible but many don’t take it seriously,” he added that, “The only way to stop it is by showing that it is a major crime and people can and will go to jail for it.”
Belize is not the only country where such crimes occur. The ancient Maya civilisation spread across what is known as the Mundo Maya, or Maya World, that encompasses all of present day Belize and parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They were prolific builders with cities, such as Caracol in Belize that boasted populations of well over 100,000 and left behind vast areas of structures. Unfortunately, many of these buildings continue to be looted and destroyed.
“I don’t think I am exaggerating if I say that every day a Maya mound is being destroyed for construction in one of the countries where the Maya lived,” Prof Estrada-Belli said.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek is home to the Belize Natural History Centre, which Mr Fleming said promotes ecological and cultural conservation through education.
“We believe that the best way to protect Belize’s natural and cultural treasures is to expose people to their beauty and magnificence. If people understand and appreciate the amazing achievements of our ancient Maya inhabitants, they would be as appalled at this sort of destruction as we are.
“We only hope that this serves as a wakeup call to how precious Belize’s cultural heritage is, and how important it is to protect it,” Mr Fleming said.